Toto Wolff admits he was surprised by the timing of Lewis Hamilton’s decision to join Ferrari, saying that the seven-time world champion’s mind changed since the holidays.
Hamilton will move to Ferrari in 2025 after activating a break clause in the two-year contract he signed with Mercedes in the second part of last year. Team principal Wolff says he felt Hamilton was committed heading into the Christmas break but was then told on Wednesday morning over breakfast that the 39-year-old had opted to move on.
“When we re-signed the contract with Lewis we opted for shorter-term, so the events are not a surprise, but maybe the timing is,” Wolff said. “What happened is that we got together for coffee in my place in Oxford, with him returning to the factory [this week], and he said to me that he has decided to race for Ferrari in 2025. That was basically it and we had a good hour of conversation and this is where we are.
“I cannot tell you exactly; all I know is that we were very aligned when we went in to the Christmas period and I think we have said that in public and in the team. You need to ask Lewis why he changed his mind.
“How he framed it to me is perfectly understandable — he needed a new challenge and he was looking for a different environment and this was maybe the last possibility to do something else.
“We are big boys — we knew that signing a short-term contract could be of benefit to both sides. We couldn’t commit for a longer period and he has taken the option to exit. So, in a way, we totally respect that you can change your mind in different circumstances, and switching to Ferrari maybe for the last peak in his career, maybe rolling the dice a bit, I can follow that decision.”
Expanding on the discussion, Wolff says he didn’t try to change Hamilton’s mind once he was informed of the decision to leave, and that he was always aware of the allure of Ferrari.
“Yes, because every race driver dreams about being in a red overall and in the red car,” he conceded. “We’ve discussed it many times before that this would be exciting to do one day. But over the years we came to the conclusion that staying at Mercedes and finishing the legacy here is something that one can be proud of.
“But I never ignore the possibility of change — whether it’s Ferrari or another team — so this is what it is. The fact didn’t surprise me at all, maybe the timing; but I can understand where he was coming from and that was to protect the team’s interest going forward.”
Wolff is confident Mercedes continues to offer at least as much on the competition side as Ferrari does for Hamilton, but feels that ultimately the lure of driving a red car was too strong. Andy Hone/Motorsport Images
Wolff also insists Hamilton’s decision to leave is not a reflection on where Mercedes stands competitively, as he commits to winning more championships without his star driver.
“I think what he said is that he felt he needed change, and I can understand that. We have been together, I believe it was 12 years — I don’t know if any other driver has ever been that long with a team. We’ve had tremendous success, and we shared the opinion when we decided to sign that short-term contract that there may be opportunities for him and for us.
“Therefore, I think also one of the considerations was the opportunity to sign a longer-term contract with Ferrari and give it a really big go at the end of his career. We didn’t talk about whether the opportunity was better there or with us, because I don’t think you can say.
“At the end of the day, he is the most successful driver and we’ve had a sensational spell and journey together — that’s something that will go down in the history books and also in the Mercedes history books.
“But we’re the Mercedes Formula 1 team. We’re the best car brand in the world, a team with legacy and we want to finish this on a high in terms of his career. But I can promise you we will build another phase of success — more victories, more world championships in the years to come — and we will be looking back at this very, very good time with Lewis in the Mercedes.”